FARGO, N.D. -- Residents along the Red River in Fargo and neighboring Moorhead, Minn., should prepare for one of the top five floods in their history, the National Weather Service said Thursday.
The flood outlook includes a 50 percent chance that the river will top 38 feet. That would surpass the fifth-highest crest of 37.34 feet in 1969. Flood stage is 18 feet.
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Fargo officials said they believe the city is still in good shape because of recent flood protection improvements, but they plan to make 500,000 sandbags to add to a reserve of 750,000 bags.
City and county officials planned to discuss the flood outlook at a news conference later Thursday.
Weather service officials said near-record cold temperatures and the ensuing slow melt has increased the chances of a top five flood. The melt cycle isn't expected to begin until the first week of April. The chances of a big rain also increase around that time, officials said.
"Those could be some tumultuous conditions," said Greg Gust, meteorologist for the weather service. He added later, "The bottom line is that we have a way above normal snowpack sitting out there right now."
Fargo-Moorhead residents battled three straight major floods beginning in 2009, when the record crest of nearly 41 feet forced thousands to evacuate and caused an estimated $100 million in damage.
The river crested at 36.99 feet in 2010. It hit 38.75 feet in 2011, the fourth highest crest on record.
Fargo has built more than 20 levees since the 2009 flood and bought out hundreds of homes in flood-prone areas.
The flood threat comes as Congress is set to consider whether to help fund a nearly $2 billion diversion channel around the Fargo-Moorhead area. The White House has signed off on the project.